I was nineteen when I realized my mother had lied to me. It was a difficult thing to accept.
She’d lied to me before, but those were small lies—stuff like Santa and the Easter bunny. Things that seemed pretty darn big at the time but not later on, after the sting of their truth had been replaced by the knowing that I would still be getting presents and candy every year. Those are the sorts of falsehoods most parents tell their children, and I think that’s okay. You don’t get sent to hell for lies like that.
You don’t get sent to hell for lies like the one my mother told me, either. Still, that one stung more than when I found out her and Dad were really Santa and the Easter bunny. Maybe it was my age. People tend to hold on to things tighter as they grow older.
As far as I can remember, the lie started when I got a telescope for my eighth birthday. I’d sit outside for hours every night pointing it at every star and planet I could see. I saw seas on the Moon and rings around Saturn, the spooky redness of Mars and the calming whites of Venus. I was enraptured. To know that there were other worlds aside from my own? That what I saw was only a grain of sand upon the shores of All There Is? Amazing.
I looked at the night sky and saw wonder and mystery and possibility, and I knew my calling in life.
So I told Mom I was going to be an astronaut one day. And she looked at me and smiled and said, “You can be anything you want to be.”
That’s when the lie started.
I believed her. When you’re eight years old, you believe your parents hold the keys to the gates of wisdom. They know everything you’ve done, everything you’re doing, and in many cases everything you’re going to do. So if she said, “You can be anything you want to be,” that meant I was going to be an astronaut. No doubt about it.
I’ve told you where her lie began. Now I’ll tell you where it ended.
It was a year after I’d graduated from high school, and I’d drifted into a job at a local gas station. I was filling up Betsy Blackwell’s car (nice lady, Betsy, though every time I’d wash her windshield she’d turn the wipers on and nearly take off my hand), and up to the pump in front of me pulls a nice SUV. Government tags, with a NASA sticker on the back window.
That’s when I knew.
I was never going to be an astronaut. I’d never have the privilege of riding around in a nice Chevrolet Tahoe with a NASA sticker on the back window, much less seeing the stars up close. I wasn’t smart enough or talented enough. I didn’t catch the breaks. No sir, the only sky Billy Coffey would ever be under was the sky out on Pump 1 at the gas station. And he couldn’t even really enjoy that one because he was too busy trying to make sure Betsy Blackwell didn’t take off his hand with her dang windshield wipers.
I kept all of that to myself until two weeks ago. My family had joined my parents for pizza. One thing led to another and then another, and I mentioned that day at the gas station.
Mom smiled and said, “I figured if I said you could do anything, you’d end up being something.”
Ah. I understood then.
Odds are your mama lied to you, too. She said you could grow up to become a scientist or a baseball player or a musician or President. And in the spirit of transparency, I’ll admit plenty of fathers say the same thing. I know I do.
My daughter wants to be a writer/teacher/archaeologist/scientist/doctor. I tell her she’s aiming a bit too low.
My son’s aspirations are a bit more basic but no less high—he wants to work at Legoland. Yes! I tell him. Why not?
Because they might not be able to do anything, but they can certainly be something.